Back in April, the Diamondbacks opened the season with St. Louis in which many pundits felt fore-shadowed the National League Championship Series.
Well, that was half right.
While the Diamondbacks scattered for unknown venues in late September, the Cardinals, by manager Kirk Gibson’s admission at the end of the season, was the best team in baseball and play well into October. While teams goes through a myriad of players essentially to cover those injured, the Cardinals used additional players to strengthen an already strong contingent.
That squad is pretty much removed from the team which opened the season at Chase Field in early April. What changed is composition of the bullpen, and that will be the decisive factor in the out-come of the World Series.
When the season began, Cards’ manager Mike Matheny wanted Jason Motte as his closer. Eventually, Motte underwent Tommy John surgery in early May and Matheny turned to Edward Mujica, who racked up 41 saves in 65 games.
As the Cardinals battled the Reds and Pirates for NL Central Division title, Mujica’s effectiveness declined and the value of others rose.
That would include now closer Trevor Rosenthal, who hit the radar gun at 100 miles per hour earlier in the post-season. Matheny also changed his set-up relievers and Carlos Martinez emerged, especially in the Dodgers LCS series. as the Cardinals principal go-to reliever.
If the Boston Red Sox proved anything in this post-season. they are a team which finds ways to win. The combination of the Tigers’ bullpen implosion and lack of a reliable closer was deadly and help to push the Sox into the World Series.
David Oritz and Shane Victorino took advantage and the grand slams by each accounted for half of the Red Sox’ wins against Detroit in the AL LCS.
Going forward, the Red Sox will see nothing like the mediocre Tigers’ bullpen and that will be the factor which carries St. Louis.
If Oritz battered Joaquin Benoit for his slam and Victorino reached Jose Veras for his grand-salami, they will be hard-pressed to grind out quality at-bats against the Cardinals bull pen.
Consider some numbers.
In the post-season, Rosenthal, as the Cardinals’ closer, has a 0.00 ERA in six appearances and three saves.
Set-up reliever Seth Maness also has a 0.00 ERA in five appearances while Mujica, the previous closer, is now dispatched to mop-up duty. In post-season play, Mujica made two appearances for a combined two innings of work.
Two cast-offs, lefty Randy Choate and righty John Axford, are capable of getting hitters out in critical situations.
While the Cardinals must be aware of Koji Uehara, Boston’s closer (five saves in eight post-season games), they will benefit from the return of first baseman Allen Craig (foot sprain, out since Sept. 4) to the line-up. Craig, a gritty, grind-out at-bats hitter, should give St. Louis an added offensive boost. Craig will DH in games one and two at Fenway.
At that same time, that frees left-handed hitting, first baseman Matt Adams to hold down first base and take advantage of the short right field porch at Fenway Park.
If the Cardinals come into this World Series as a team of strength, the Red Sox are an opportunistic team. The overall contributions of second baseman Dustin Pedroia can be understated and Jacoby Ellsbury, at the top of the line-up, is a terrific table-setter.
Perhaps the two hitters Matheny and his staff need to be aware is first baseman Mike Napoli and Xander Bogaerts, who will likely replace Will Middlebrooks at third.
Comparison among the starters, Adam Wainwright will open the series for St. Louis and emerging Edward Wacha goes in game two. John Lester opens for the Red Sox and John Lackey starts game two. Advantage, St. Louis.
A FINAL THOUGHT … The Cardinals bullpen will be the difference in this series.
St. Louis in six games, which means they will parade down Commonwealth Avenue and across Boston Common.